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A new report by the National Housing Federation has shown that the number of housing association tenants in England claiming Universal Credit increased by 83% from June 2019 to September 2020.
Since the start of Covid-19, the number of social rented households in England claiming the housing element of Universal Credit has increased by 39%.
The report, based on tracking surveys on 23 housing associations, shows that housing associations did a range of activities during the pandemic to help tenants, including "helping tenants financially affected to claim benefits, supportive approaches to rent collection, hardship funds, check-in calls, and shopping for customers."
Other headline figures from the report include:
- While the picture around arrears is complicated, 60% of households claiming Universal Credit are in arrears, compared to 36% of households paying by other means.
- Households claiming Universal credit are also likely to have higher arrears: an average of £610 compared to £301 for people paying by other means, from April to September 2020.
- Average arrears of £610 represents 48% more than the standard monthly Universal Credit payment for a single person with no children in England (£411.51 until September 2021).
- Households claiming Universal Credit could owe over six weeks of rent based on 2019/20 average general need social rent for England (the lowest cost rent for social housing).
- In the worst-case scenario, if this pattern continues, rent arrears could potentially rise by an additional £330m when all working age Housing Benefit claimants move to Universal Credit. Average debt per household could nearly quadruple (from £113 to £420).
The National Housing Federation says this loss of income for housing associations will impact delivery of services and ability to build new homes.
On the back of this, the NHF are calling for housing associations to be closer involved with government to "better understand drivers for rent arrears, including more strategic involvement on the co-design and improvement of Universal Credit systems".
They are also calling for closer working between the Department for Work and Pensions and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, including more research into Universal Credit.
The body also calls for the £20 Universal Credit uplift to be kept, as well as reviewing the five-week wait period that is in place.
You can read the full report here.